You Can Do This Hard Thing – 16/05/21

Opening Music: ‘I am a Tower of Strength’ round sung by Marilisa Valtazanou

Opening Words and Chalice Lighting: ‘What We Do Matters’ by Laura Horton-Ludwig

Good morning everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday gathering here on Zoom. For those of you I’ve not met before I’m Sarah Tinker, until last year minister with this great congregation, and still very much committed to our community and its message of open-hearted, open-minded inclusivity – compassion, conscience and spirituality bringing us together. It’s good to see you all. And I bid a warm welcome to all those who might be listening in to a podcast of this service in the future or watching a video of it on YouTube. I hope life is treating you well. We’re recording this at the end of Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK and our theme today, which is called ‘you can do this hard thing’ is about the many ways we support one another on our life journeys. I hope there’ll be something today that will be particularly relevant to you. If life is not treating you well at present, do please get in touch with one of us if you’d like to talk things over, or reach out elsewhere for what might assist you.

I’ll start with some words written by Laura Horton-Ludwig called ‘What we do Matters’. I wonder if any of her ideas particularly fit with your own thoughts about why we gather in community like this.

Spirit of Life and Love,
we are here because we believe what we do matters.
We are here because we believe how we live our life matters.
That with every act of kindness or meanness,
courage or fear,
love or hate,
we are weaving the fabric of the universe that holds us all.
We are here because we need encouragement.
Because we need strength.
Because so often, we get distracted.
We get in a rush,
we don’t think,
we choose the easy way
when the harder path is what our spirits truly long for.
We are here
because none of us is perfect,
but together we inspire one another.
To try again.
To take another step.
We are here because we have felt the stirrings of love and grace
in our hearts and hands and we crave more of that,
for ourselves and not only for ourselves: for everyone!
We are here because how we live matters.

So I invite us all to take a moment now, to take a conscious breath and as we breathe out to know that we have arrived here and now. Let’s imagine the connections between us all, across time and space, the tender connections of the heart that are forged by gathering together – as I light our chalice flame, a single flame connecting us with Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over, part of a progressive, contemporary and also historic, faith community, a community that welcomes you – just as you are.

Candles of Joy and Concern

Each week when we meet in person at our church building in Kensington or here in our online congregation, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite one another to light a candle and share something that is in our heart. So here in our Zoom service we’ve a good few minutes for some of you to tell us of a joy or a concern, and to light a candle, real or imaginary – visitors you are most welcome to join in. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and speak out so everyone can hear and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go if you’d like to, as it’s good to hear some other voices, and let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for so others have chance to speak too. And I suggest we each now switch to gallery view on our own screens so we can see everyone. Jeannene our host and I will do our best to spot if you want to speak and can’t unmute yourself.

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our hearts today – for our joys and our griefs weave us together in the fabric of community. Our lives are connected.

Let’s take a moment now to think of the joys and concerns we have heard spoken this morning… these glimpses into one another’s lives and the life of our wider world… and let’s hold them – and each other – in loving compassion as we move into a time of prayer now. Let’s each do what we do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind – maybe shift your position, find a position that helps you focus – close your eyes or soften your gaze – whatever assists you to be fully present with yourself, with each other, and with that larger presence which holds us all.

Time of Reflection and Prayer

As mental health awareness week draws to a close I invite you to join me in a time of prayer and reflection, living as we do in a time when our awareness of the importance for each of us of mental health and well-being is still a growing awareness. Let us encourage one another and ourselves to be more open in letting one another know how we are feeling and what is going on for us that no-one need carry a burden alone and unheard. Let us strengthen our ability to listen without judgement, to make gentle enquiries of one another, to sit alongside someone in silent acceptance of what is.

Let us acknowledge the importance of all human communities. Let us pray for all those who are in leadership positions in our world that they might be conscious of their own weaknesses and not be blinkered by the power they hold. May they always remember that power is held on behalf of the whole community.

As violence threaten communities particularly in Palestine and Israel once more, may justice be shown to the oppressed, may their concerns be heard, and may our world community discover wellsprings of strength and determination to do all that it can to encourage peace and justice to arise where injustice and destruction have previously ruled.

Let us strive to lovingly understand the hidden places existing within us all, that the light of day might shine to balance the darkness. Let us give the necessary time and space for one another’s processes of growth and change.

In a time of shared silence now I invite you if you wish, to direct your thoughts and prayers to people and places in your own lives and in the life of the world where help and support are needed most.


To be human is to be both fabulous and frail, fierce and tender, wise and foolish, fragmented and whole, powerless and powerful. Let us all aspire to use our strengths wisely and to cherish our weaknesses – for together they make us who we truly are, amen.

Reading: read by Pat Gregory – ‘Peony Support’

Quite a few of us seem to find comfort in the natural world – out walking, gardening. In this piece I’m going to read, spiritual writer Gunilla Norris considers a heavy peony blossom and its need for nurturing in order to open in all its floral beauty. This extract comes from her book called Journeying in Place: Reflections from a Country Garden

‘Peony hugging,’ I think to myself as I move from clump to clump. Each place I become more aware of the hard and heavy buds. Their weight has already begun to bend the stems toward the ground. In a few days the blossoms will open, and they will be huge. The whole plant will groan.

I think of human blossoming and how much it, too, needs to be staked and supported. We need a circle of friends to hold us if we are going to open like peony buds and let out the beauty that is in us.

How many of us have keeled over just in the time of blooming for lack of support and encouragement? How many of us have not dared to reveal our true selves because we fear being cut, we fear the dying afterward? How many of us say to life, ‘This is a mistake. I can’t do it. It takes more than I’ve got’?

It does take everything we’ve got. I walk around the bed. It is a cradle. The plants reach my navel now. Some have only one bud. Some have two, and some have as many as six blossoms. Their peony natures have said ‘yes’ and have opened. The petals radiate out — white with pink — pink with white. I want to find the nature in me that will say ‘yes’ like this. And I want to support others in their blooming . . . to be a stake, a circle of twine, an encouragement, a witness.

Hymn: Nothing Distress You

There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now – it’s called ‘nothing distress you’ – it’s based on words by Teresa of Avila and it speaks of the comfort some find in their faith, a comfort I know some of us find in human connections or in the natural world. We’ll all now be muted here on Zoom so do join in singing at home if you’d like to, the words will appear on our screens. If you would rather not sing, that’s fine.

Nothing distress you,
nothing affright you,
everything passes,
God will abide.
Patient endeavour
accomplishes all things;
who God possesses
needs naught beside.

Lift your mind upward,
fair are his mansions,
nothing distress you,
cast fear away.
Follow Christ freely,
his love will light you,
nothing affright you,
in the dark way.

See the world’s glory!
Fading its splendour,
everything passes
all is denied.
Look ever homeward
to the eternal;
faithful in promise
God will abide.

Love in due measure,
measureless goodness,
patient endeavour,
run to love’s call!
Faith burning brightly
be your soul’s shelter;
who hopes, believing,
accomplishes all.

Hell may assail you,
it cannot move you;
sorrows may grieve you,
faith may be tried.
Though you have nothing,
he is your treasure:
who God possesses
needs naught beside.

Meditation and Silence:

We’re moving into the meditative part of our gathering now – we’ll have some words to guide us into stillness, then there’ll be a video of our chalice flame for you to focus on if you find that helpful and after about 3 minutes of silence the video will change to show the words of a song. I’ll tell you a bit about the song – it’s called You can do this hard thing, it’s where the title for today’s service came from and it was written by a folk singer and writer called Carrie Newcomer. Carrie is a Quaker and her music often expresses her faith, her awareness of the sacred in the ordinary. She has described how this song first came to her when she was thinking about our need for encouragement from one another in life. And she remembered the gentle words of encouragement her daughter’s teacher gave to her class when they were finding their maths lessons a struggle. ‘You can do this hard thing, it’s not easy I know, but I believe that it’s so, you can do this hard thing.’

And as always in Unitarian activities feel free to think your own thoughts and meditate in your own way. My words are simply suggestions. So let’s get ourselves into a comfortable position, feel free to turn off your camera if that helps, enjoy that feeling of resting in your chair if you are sitting down, the sense of the earth beneath you, slip off your shoes off if you like or put your feet up, whatever feels right for you. Maybe have a stretch, straightening our backs if that feels right for us, and lift your shoulders up and let them circle back and down, releasing any tension you might be aware of.

With eyes open or closed, your facial muscles eased and relaxed, softening your forehead and the muscles of your head and neck, let’s take a breath in and out – and breathe into a connection – connecting with an inner sense of possibility and capability in life, focussing on a peaceful place within our very being.

And in this more rested state I invite you if you so wish to allow times in your own life to come into your awareness, the times when you have done the hard things or been helped or have helped others to do hard things in life.

Let’s enter a quiet time together now, with our chalice flame, which will end with our song from Marilisa and slides of the lyrics.

Silence (3 minutes)

Music and Slides of Lyrics: ‘You Can Do This Hard Thing’ sung by Marilisa Valtazanou

Address: You Can Do This Hard Thing

If you’re someone who is in the midst of hard times, I’m not sure if it’s much comfort to hear that you aren’t alone. We’re all well aware that any and every human life has a certain amount of suffering in with the mix. But when we find ourselves struggling, it can be hard to think of anything but the situation we are dealing with.

So this may be completely the wrong time for me to be saying to you ‘you can do this hard thing’ – and if that’s the case feel free to shout loudly at your screen, ideally whilst muted, or go and make a welcome cup of tea. This is Mental Health Awareness Week and you are the best expert about your own wellbeing.

I asked people to get in touch to tell me anonymously of some of the hard things they’ve had to deal with in life or are going through at present. Several young people told me about school tests and exams that they are about to face and how worrying it is to have had their education so disrupted this last year. One was finding it hard to sleep because they keep thinking of bits of the maths curriculum they don’t quite understand yet. Some people are facing health issues, some very serious indeed, some with symptoms that nobody seems quite able to explain. The issue of how life will ‘get back to normal’ after these Covid-19 related lockdowns we’ve been through, is a great concern to some of us who they don’t yet feel safe travelling on buses and trains. I’ve heard of the pain of friendships inexplicably ended, of marriages reaching a difficult end, of being wrongly accused and of losing a job unjustly, of feelings of isolation and despair. People have brought up children alone, had children taken into care, suffered miscarriages and infertility. And I’ve heard from people who have ‘done this hard thing’ in life – have won legal battles, dealt with difficult relationships, learnt new skills, overcome alcoholism, coped with being unable to visit loved ones or attend funerals, managed to start a new life in a new land, speaking another language. Such life issues require us to seek wellsprings of courage within us, courage as a quality of the heart – as the English word shows in its derivation from cor in Latin, couer in French. These are the times when we have to stand and face what is coming our way. These are the times when we may learn to accept what is happening rather than resisting it. This is what Irish writer and philosopher John O’Donohue describes as showing ‘a courageous hospitality towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.’ Not the easiest form of hospitality to learn is it.

These are the times when we are helped by the encouragement of others – those marvellous people who know the right moment to say ‘you can do this hard thing’. You can get through this, you can cope with what life has thrown your way, you have the inner resources you need – and if those necessary resources seem in short supply – well you can shout out to others. The reading that Pat gave us earlier about the heavy peony flowers and their need for support in the garden – such a visual image of their heavy drooping heads and their need for a support stick or two.

Heavy flowerheads sometimes show us what they need – their drooping buds are a way of communicating and we then have to interpret what we see. With one another, let’s develop skills of asking what someone needs rather than rushing in with our own ideas. A friend with visual empairment’s description of just how very irritating it is when they’re standing by the side of the road, well able to cross using their hearing and the guiding pavement bumps – only to be grabbed by the arm by a well-meaning but actually thoughtless stranger and dragged across the road. In our encouragement and support of others let’s become experts at asking people ‘can I assist you in some way?’ and not making assumptions about another person’s needs. Let’s not grab someone’s arm before asking them if that’s what they want us to do.

And let’s not fall into another trap – a Pollyanna-ish approach some might call it – after the book character Pollyanna who always saw the bright side of life. ‘You can do this hard thing’ does not pretend that everything is wonderful or that life is filled with happy endings. Rather the opposite. It says that life is tough for many of us and life does not always go the way we want. I’ve always treasured these words written by Caroline Blair who was a member of Kensington Unitarians, she wrote this for our ‘I believe’ project – inviting people to describe their world view – listen to what she wrote to contradict the simplistic – ‘if life brings you lemons, make lemonade’ approach to people’s problems:

Caroline Blair: ‘I believe that bad things happen to good people. All we can do is identify the things we can influence, and make the best decisions we can, and come to terms with the things that we can’t. None of this is easy, and it is an ongoing and forever incomplete process. I believe that if we get lemons, we won’t always be able to make lemonade. Sometimes people get too many lemons at once and their strength gives out. We need to look out for people who are drowning under lemons and be ready to offer a hand with the lemonade making. They may not be easy to spot, or easy to help, or at all grateful.’

Thanks to Caroline for that beautifully expressed reminder. As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close here in Britain, let’s be the people who stay aware to the reality that mental and emotional health issues are still too often hidden away and not spoken about. Let’s be part of a changing culture that values conversations about our thoughts and feelings and learns healthy ways to give and receive support.

And in our world community perhaps that message ‘you can do this hard thing’ can be shouted out by us all – to governments that might be shrugging their shoulders in the face of seemingly irresolvable issues. World hunger, clean drinking water, education for girls, climate change, peace and justice in the Middle East – maybe we can do these hard things too. O, may it be so.

Hymn: Spirit of Earth, Root, Stone and Tree

We can sing together again now, alone and together here on Zoom, when we’ll be safely muted. This hymn spirit of earth, root, stone and tree has words written by Lyanne Mitchell from Glasgow Unitarians and sung for us by David Kent of Leicester Unitarians. It’s to an old Scottish folk tune – called the Leaving of Lismore – and it speaks of the natural world as our source of strength and renewal. And it’s fine just to listen if you’d rather sit and enjoy the photos.

Spirit of earth, root, stone and tree,
water of life, flowing in me,
keeping me stable, nourishing me,
O fill me with living energy!
Spirit of nature, healing and free,
spirit of love, expanding in me,
spirit of life, breathe deeply in me,
inspire me with living energy!

Spirit of love, softly draw near,
open my heart, lessen my fear,
sing of compassion, help me to hear,
O fill me with loving energy!
Spirit of nature, healing and free,
spirit of love, expanding in me,
spirit of life, breathe deeply in me,
inspire me with living energy!

Spirit of life, you are my song,
sing in my soul, all my life long,
gladden and guide me, keep me from wrong,
O fill me with sacred energy!
Spirit of nature, healing and free,
spirit of love, expanding in me,
spirit of life, breathe deeply in me,
inspire me with living energy!


Time for some announcements now. As always much gratitude to our Zoom hosts Jeannene and John – without whom these services just could not happen, thanks to Pat Gregory for our reading and to Marilisa Valtazanou for lovely music today. There are plenty of other opportunities to keep in touch in the week ahead – there are a few places for Heart and Soul this evening – I can put you in touch with Laura Dobson who’s running it – this week’s theme is Shelter.

There’s the coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday – lively conversation in good company guaranteed. And next Sunday Jane Blackall our ministry co-ordinator will be leading our 10am service. Do drop us an email if you are quite new to our Sunday gatherings or stay behind after today’s service for a chat.

Thank you everyone who has made a donation recently or taken out a standing order. Every bit helps in these challenging times for all organisations and charities. To make a quick payment just go to our Kensington Unitarians website and on the front page there’s a Donate button to click on. Or you’ll find the details needed to make an online banking payment or set up a standing order.

At the end of the service, after our closing music, we’d like to take a photo so do stick around for that if that’s ok with you and we invite you to stay for a chat over a cuppa afterwards too, if you don’t need to dash off. For our closing words, I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together. And let me tell you a bit about our closing music – sung for us in a lovely video by Marilisa Valtazanou. It’s a modern folk song called The Mary Ellen Carter, a sea shanty that tells of a crew’s heroic efforts to sail a sunken ship once more. And it ends with a message to us all:

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bs lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Closing Blessing:

And so I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. Let us take this warmth and our sense of loving connection back into our wider world, a world that yearns for a message of understanding and acceptance.

May each of us find the strength we need for the tasks that require our attention in the days ahead. May we offer support to those we meet along life’s highway and remember that we too can ask for help when it’s needed. We do not always need to do this hard thing on our own.

May each of us find wellsprings of strength within us and share what we have with others we meet along the way, amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Closing Music: ‘Mary Ellen Carter’ sung by Marilisa Valtazanou

Rev. Sarah Tinker

16th May 2021